July 19, 2024

(Bloomberg) — China plans to make it easier for foreign tourists to book tickets, register at hotels and use their overseas bank cards in an effort to boost stubbornly low visitation figures.

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The State Council released the list of measures, though stopped short of outlining specific strategies to hit its targets, in a statement on Friday that underscored tourism’s important role in spurring economic growth. The release coincides with the first day of of the eight-day National Day and Golden Week holiday period, which is typically a boon for travel and consumption.

China’s three-year pursuit of Covid Zero essentially sealed the country off from the world and, despite its reopening earlier this year, few foreign tourists are visiting. A top concern for many is safety, but visa hassles, lack of flights and idiosyncratic payment systems also make the idea of a holiday in China daunting for many potential visitors.

Read More: China’s Open for Travel But Few Tourists Are Coming or Going

Payments and the use of digital platforms that are unique to the country represent a practical hurdle for many tourists. It’s often difficult to use cash, though China’s central bank has repeatedly said that rejecting it is illegal. And most vendors — from street stalls to large department stores — only accept local payment systems such as WeChat Pay and Alipay.

There has been some progress on that front, with both WeChat Pay and Alipay now allowing overseas credit cards to be linked.

The State Council also vowed to optimize visa and customs clearance policies, as well as boost visa handling and approval efficiency. That’s in line with a previous government pledge to simplify the process, including asking visa applicants to list where they have traveled in the past year rather than five years.

READ: China Eases Visa Application Process to Attract Foreign Visitors

China will also seek to resume and increase international flights, especially from neighboring nations and countries that are the main sources of inbound travelers. No further details were given in the statement.

The government also plans to train tourist guides, and employees at tourist attractions and hotels in foreign languages.

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